TV Crew people often say that sound people are the strangest cast at the carnival. After years lurking around some sound mixer list serves, I can see how they would reach that conclusion. Check out www.jwsoundgroup.net and read some of the threads. I’ve never seen so many like-minded people go to the mat as they do, mixed with indulgent reverence for each other. A mostly happy yet dysfunctional family, with a cage in the basement.
If you want to go deeper , check out rec.arts.movies.production.sound on the ol’ Usenet. These days, Usenet is part of the internet wasteland, like CB radio. Nobody knew much about net-etiquette back then. Check out the posts of/about “Senator Mike” or “Roberto.” Mike would wail on any sound novice or “outsider” to go back from whence they came. Mike has softened up in his later years on jwsound, but occasionally, he still manages to let his old self shine. Back then, he and others were sometimes “banned” from the group, only to show up on other groups, like the Lectrosonics group, where he tells folks that their equipment is “broken”.
This kind of relates to my experience as a ham radio operator. I always wanted to be a ham, since I was a kid. My dad told me he would buy me the equipment if I learned Morse code, and passed the technical test. I tried, but did not have the discipline, or mentoring, to see it through. But I finally got my license about 30 years later, and I learned Morse code. Morse code is obsolete. Just don’t tell any ham operators I said so.
Which is why as a ham, I ultimately never spent much time on the air. Those guys weren’t too friendly or fun to engage. Curmudgeonly, reclusive, often ultra-conservative, & not much in the way of social skills. They use words like “diabolical.” Instead of saying “goodbye,” they are just as apt to say “farewell.” Farewell? The below screen capture is Senator Mike himself, as an extra on Hawaii 5-0, sometime around the late 60’s -early 70’s:
I guess, like athletes, electronic gear-heads tend to size one another up on a continuing basis. Back in the 80’s, I met a sound mixer named James Tannenbaum on a film shooting in Austin. Jim’s very talented and successful. I respect him a great deal. I learned a lot from him. He’s written some great articles for Sound & Picture. He is undoubtedly one of the most unusual human beings I have ever met. I was the video assist operator, and a sound wannabe. No doubt I picked his brain to excess. When Jim didn’t appreciate my presence, he wouldn’t use normal cues to dismiss me. He would toy with my assumptions or quiz me into submission. Mr. Jean Clark, his chain-smoking boom operator, would delightfully join in. Some time soon, I will post some passages from a book Jim was writing at the time about sound mixing. Technically, much of it is obsolete. However, the advice Jim revealed about dealing with others on the set was hilarious. “Use your nearly-dead batteries script supervisor Comteks.” I paraphrase, but stuff like that.
Anyway, among personalities on the set, I guess the sound people rank as the most unusual bunch. Maybe we were the kids who were picked last to be on the team. Loners. There must be some pent-up aggression among us, as evidenced by the tit-for-tat that lives in infamy on the sound mixer listserves. (Senator, that Usenet stuff never goes away, at least for now.)
To be honest, I’m probably just as strange as the rest of them. We are least qualified individually to judge how we are perceived by others. Also, I think my clients are just too diabolical to tell me the truth.
-by Pete Verrando www.txsound.com